Many of the modern comforts that we enjoy today are the result and evolution of precautions our early ancestors took to avoid certain death.
I’m talking about things like running water, anti-bacterial soap, refrigerators, clothing, etc.
Strip these away these creature comforts, and you will quickly see that the “true” world is a dirty, unrefined, dangerous, and downright nasty place to live in!
One of these particular unpleasant nasties that you might run into is parasites.
What is a parasite?
A parasite is “an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host’s expense.”
Sounds pleasant, no?
For your reading pleasure, we’ve put together a list of 7 particular nasty human parasites. Without further ado:
#1 Scabies mite
Photo: L0078780 Scabies infection of the hand. Chromolithograph. c. 187 – License
To kick off the list, we introduce you to the scabies mite. Also known as the “seven-year itch”, Scabies is a contagious skin infestation caused by the mite Sarcoptes scabiei. You’ll know if you have scabies if your symptoms include: severe itchiness and a pimple-like rash. Occasionally tiny burrows may even be seen on your skin. When first infected, symptoms don’t usually become apparent for up to two to six weeks. If someone gets contaminated again down the road, symptoms may become apparent inside a day. Manifestations of the symptoms can be seen over a large portion of the body or specified areas, for example, the wrists, between fingers, or along the waistline. Scratching may cause skin breakdown and further bacterial contamination of the skin.
#2 Halicephalobus gingivalis
Photo: Soybean cyst nematode and egg SEM – License
Next on our list, is the memorably named, Halicephalobus gingivalis. This particularly nasty bug has only been found in post-mortem and had been fatal. It’s found most commonly in environments where poor sanitation assists in the transport of parasitism between humans and animals. H. gingivalis causes brain and spinal cord inflammation, leading to brain dysfunction. On the positive side, H. Gingivalis is very uncommon in the United States. In fact, in 2014 there were only five cases of human infection caused by H. gingivalis worldwide – all of which were fatal.
#3 Taenia solium aka Pork Worm
Photo: Frote de anemia por deficiencia de hierro – License
The Pork worm is an intestinal parasite found throughout the world, but not surprisingly, most prevalently in countries where pork is eaten in abundance. The worm has a flat, ribbon-like body, which is white in color and can measure between a freaky two to three meters in length. The worst part is that this parasite’s body consists of a chain of segments – each with its functioning reproductive unit. To kill this beast means killing it entirely and not just cutting of its “head.” Effects of the Pork Worm range anywhere from the loss of appetite to brain lesions and seizures.
#4 Naegleria fowleri aka “brain-eating amoeba.”
Photo: Naegleria fowleri lifecycle stages – License
Here we arrive at the frightening brain-eating amoeba known as the N. fowleri. It is a parasite that pops up in the news every spring and summer. And that’s because it mostly preys upon people swimming in bodies of warm freshwaters, such as ponds, lakes, rivers, and hot springs. It causes a sudden and severe brain infection called naegleriasis, which is almost always lethal. Infections occur when the parasite is inhaled through the nose, where it then travels directly to the brain. Sleep tight!
#5 Paralysis tick
Paralysis Tick (Ixodes holocyclus) before & after eating / Photo: ©Bjørn Christian Tørrissen – License
Dang ol’ ticks. They can be found just about everywhere, carry a host of diseases and are down-right ugly to boot. One of their most unpleasant traits is a neurotoxin that they carry in their salivary glands. Once attached to a host, an engorged tick transmits the toxin to said host. Symptoms of infection begin with weakness in legs that eventually progresses to (you guessed it) paralysis. Once symptoms appear, removal of the embedded tick usually clears things up within several hours to days. If the tick is not removed though, the toxin can kill you! The incidence of tick paralysis is unknown.
#6 Guinea Worm
Photo: Dracunculosis/Guinea Worm Disease. A method used to extract a Guinea worm from the leg vein of a human patient – License
There are many risks associated with drinking unfiltered water – one of which is your possibility of contracting the guinea worm. Upon ingesting infected water, the Guinea parasite penetrates the host’s stomach and intestinal wall and enter the abdominal cavity. After maturation into adults, the male worms die and the females move towards the skin surface. Approximately one year after infection, the first symptoms appear as blisters the skin, which eventually ruptures. If submerged under water, the female guinea worm will slowly start to emerge from the host’s skin after the blister ruptures. This helps coax the parasite out to be removed.
#7 Loa Loa
Photo: Microfilaria of L. loa in a thin blood smear, stained with Giemsa – License
Last on our list is the Loa Loa, commonly known as the “eye worm” because it localizes to the mucous membrane that covers the front of the eye. You won’t know if you’ve been infected because infections are asymptomatic at and symptoms can take years, or even more than a decade, to present themselves The most apparent system is when the parasitic worm matures into an adult and crosses the sclera of the eye which causes significant pain to the host. Among other tissues where this critter can be found include the penis, testes, nipples, bridge of the nose, kidneys, and heart. Fortunately, unless you live in the African rainforest, your chances of running into the Loa Loa parasite is slim.
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